My paternal grandmother, a no-nonsense mother of seven and grandmother of more, was the master of simple, hardy crowd-feeding fare. Aside from slabs of ice cream—cut thick from half-gallon blocks—the dessert I associate with her most is the plop, a sticky, fruity cake-like concoction.
A less than appetizing moniker, plop is nonetheless illustrative of the dessert’s honest, homey simplicity. I’ve always supposed that the name refers to the fact that one just plops all of the ingredients into the baking pan, but it may also refer to the method of serving the often structureless dish: by plopping heaps of it into bowls or onto plates. Regardless, it’s a dead simple, versatile, delicious crowd pleaser that requires no refrigeration and only gets more moist and tasty in the heat and humidity of a summer’s day, making it just the thing for an informal 4th of July gathering.
Consisting of little more than pancake batter poured over a thick layer of fresh fruit, plops fall somewhere between cobblers and quick breads, sharing territory with dowdies and buckles. And, as with all those dishes, there are no hard and fast rules for making plops.
I’ve chosen cherries for this recipe—accenting them with nutmeg, almond extract, and brown sugar—because they’re just coming into abundance and their firm meatiness tends to ensure a slightly more structured result. But if cherries aren't your thing, you could just as easily use berries, rhubarb, peaches, pineapple, apples (though they may require a little pre-cooking) or whatever else you have on hand, adjusting or omitting the additional flavorings as you see fit. Likewise, though I’ve used a standard buttermilk pancake batter as the basis for the recipe, you could use your favorite pancake recipe, or even a mix-based batter, instead.
I also suggest dusting the top of the batter with a little plain granulated sugar—a simple way to add a touch of sparkle and texture to the plop surface without requiring any additional ingredients. You could also sprinkle the surface with large-crystal raw sugar, sliced almonds, granola or just leave it plain&madsh;all to good effect. (If the weather is especially humid, I tend to leave the surface unadorned as sugar tends to melt and other accents go soggy.)
There is really no end to the plop’s adaptability. Allowing such boundless flexibility and choice, it is an apt addition to any Independence Day table.
- For cherry base:
- 3 pints fresh cherries, about 2 pounds (or 1 kilogram)
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (96 grams)
- 1/4 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (42 grams)
- For plop batter:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (240 grams)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 tablespoons sugar (40 grams)
- 2 cups buttermilk (450 grams)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup butter, melted (56 grams)
- Sugar, for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan and set aside.
Rinse, de-stem and pit cherries. Spread evenly across the bottom of the prepared baking pan.
Thoroughly combine brown sugar and nutmeg and sprinkle evenly over the cherries. Cut the first quantity of butter into small chunks and scatter on top of cherries.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the first four (dry) ingredients for the batter. Whisk together remaining (wet) ingredients to thoroughly incorporate. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with a spatula or wooden spoon, just to combine. (Do not overmix; a few lumps will be okay.)
Pour the batter evenly over the cherries. Sprinkle the surface of the batter lightly with sugar.
Bake plop for 25 to 30 minutes, until surface is firm to the touch and cherry juices are bubbling. Serve warm out of the oven or at room temperature—naked or with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream.